Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Good Night [repost]

the last of this series of reposts, each evidence that there is nothing new under the sun, I chose this one over 9,579,323,042 nearly identical others because my beloved sam-i-am is featured in it, asking for "an under." i don't know how he and i devised that whole "under" thing, or, for that matter, any number of other unique communications -- i just know that that was a huge part of sammy's charm and that i miss him. o readers, i am having such a hard time.

and yet? on the food network, this week's iron chef america challenge involves tongue (duck, lamb) and cheek (halibut, beef). tongue tartar, anyone? one of the judges just opined that he was looking forward to "the textures." i can relate. i really can.

i am working on several new posts, and if i can keep from deleting them, they should appear atop these nasty old reposts within the next few days.

tongue and cheek, ew.

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

Lemonade from lemons? Me? Not likely. Still, it being one of those days, I am trying to find some good in it, and am trying to *be* good, which is the considerably taller order.

I was up all of Saturday night from pain, but was very distracted from it by a rocking Australian Open men's final. While part of me feels so bad for Federer, things being, for so long, seemingly equal. Now, though, with this Grand Slam on hard court and Federer being well (he had mono last year), Nadal is clearly the better player. Yes, I know, "on any given day..." As a tennis fan, I am thrilled with this rivalry. I am thrilled by any hard fought five set match. Shoot, I am one of the crayzees that dearly wishes the women could move from best of three to best of five, as well. There should be no issues with conditioning in today's competitive tennis world. Anyway, it has been 21 years since the last five-set Aussie Open final -- Pat Cash versus Mats Wilander. 21 years. Wow.

I dozed through the women's final the night before! P-i-t-i-f-u-l. Something needs to give with the women's draw as the finals, more and more, seem to happen in the quarters and semis! Safina? Why did she even show up? Who wouldn't have preferred seeing Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic battle it out? It seems like the departure of the Belgian contingent has taken away the magic. As usual, the Russians and Serbs are coming... I just wish they'd hurry up and establish themselves.

Serena's nose must have grown a yard. This is what she said after the match:
"Dinara was hitting the ball so hard that I had to go for broke, that was all I could do to stay in there. Dinara, thank you so much for putting on such a great show for women's tennis." I don't allow "OMG" on my blog... but if I did, this is where I might be tempted. Williams' wins the Hypocrisy Award and I am sure Safina might have picked up on this wee bit of condescension.

My brother the Grader Boob and I are always in close contact during tennis Grand Slams. Some people rely on birthdays, Christmas, those times of year. Not us. He told me last week to expect our Xmas gifts on Wednesday, and that my birthday cadeau might come next year. I wish we could agree to abolish gifts altogether.

I don't know what he is teaching this semester... I will have to wait, probably, until his first professorial meltdown. I always get to hear about those while they are still fresh! For some reason, he thinks I have wisdom to share. Ha.

I wonder how the other Brother-Unit, Tumbleweed, did over the weekend, what with all the betting activity on Super Bowl Sunday. (He's a bookie.) He emailed me that the thing he dreads the most seems to be happening with increasing frequency -- elderly folk trotting up, and saying, "I've never bet on anything before in my life! So how does this work?"

Last night, I spiked quite the temp and between that and lack of sleep, I was fairly miserable. Hot and cold, shivering and sweating, I prayed for some rest. And I got it -- only in hourly spurts and with cats. The Felines were in on it, I swear.

Sammy was chief prosecutor of the war. Marmy took the roll of Head *Ack*er and she seemed to enjoy standing on my chest *ack*-*ack*-*ack*ing away. Occasionally, she hissed -- a new behavior she is trying out. It's effective, garners her attention, but the attention is confused -- we've no clue what she is hissing about and suspect them to be gratuitous. Even the other cats ignore these verbalizations, fairly rolling their eyes in boredom. Should she add claws to the act, that will change, for sure, as she is well known for her deadly accurate slashing ability.

My Little Idiot, the Dobster? He is sent into the fray when I am alert enough to have a Cute Reflex. Dobby is disarmingly precious, and knows it, but as he is a certified Little Idiot, he cannot be obnoxious about it. I hate to be "one of those" pet owners? But? Dobby is perhaps the cutest, most intelligent of all domesticated cats. Ever.

I'm glad to have *that* settled.

The Felines are a wonderful gift from God and a fantastic source of comfort when I am so sick -- and terrific bearers of fun and distraction always.

They are so accustomed to my reclined body that they treat it much like an edifice. There are ports of entry -- they all want to hang out under the quilts and blankets, curl up under my raised knees -- and holy cow this is starting to sound like pet porn...

Anyway -- the concept of asking for "an under" must be understood. While it is true that a cat could burrow under the quilt from any perimeter point, the only correct and point-worthy entryway is over the left shoulder. And they know it. So while they might each half-heartedly attempt a foray via the feet, or under an elbow, they know that the One and Only True Path is along the left clavicle. (I have to stop saying "shoulder." I don't have any freaking shoulders anymore. I may *never*, at this rate, have a shoulder again. I am likely to be forever shoulder-less. Does anyone remember the "ruth-less" episodes of Firesign Theatre? I must keep laughing, I must keep laughing, I must keep laughing -- in between bouts of deep despair.)

Oh, Jesus. How did I get stuck on my woe-is-me again? The cats -- back, *ack*-*ack*, to the cats.

So they have learned what amounts to "knocking" at the door. Sure, they first attempt to get what they want without having to acknowledge B. F. Skinner, but they end up knocking. Sammy is the most endearing at it, I don't know why. He has always been able to project this very shy look and that's the look he adopts -- he drops his head and peers up at me with "big eyes." He waits until I ask, "What do you want?" and then, he takes his paw and taps several times on the ersatz shoulder. He also understands when I say, "I'm sorry, there is no Under under here." At those moments, he changes looks, adopts one that is pretty haughty, turns and stalks away.

The cat knows there is an Under under there and that I am just being petty.

Apparently, last night, The Felines decided that my penchant for sleep was me being petty. yet again. And for the first time, "knocking" knew a new context: waking me up. It's hard to explain the incongruety of my nascent dreams as they attempted to incorporate this physical *thud* *thud* into some sort of cogent storyline. Near nightmares? More like Kitty Cauchemars!

I found a way, ultimately, to make them stop. Surprisingly, it involved kibble. After a feeding frenzy, we all napped until 9:30 am. I started the day off with a temp of 100.6.

It's afternoon now, and I am topping off at 101.3. Not that great of an increase, but this is on top of Tylenol and ibuprofen. And it is all happening despite my daily dose of prednisone. I don't understand the dynamics of it, but most of my doctors will tell me that it is "impossible" for me to have a fever on prednisone. Well, all of this effing impossibility has been going on, almost DAILY, for over 14 months. I am ready for the impossibility of fevers. The banishment of sweats. The disappearance of dehydration. And emotional lability. And INSOMNIA!

The ceiling has probably not yet been met -- as it usually peaks in the late evening.

Most of the day has been spent meeting physical needs, checking tedious things off a tedious list.
Folding clothes, washing clothes, towels, sheets, washing dishes, putting up dishes, a little vacuuming (the price of having three cats), some dinner prep. Plus, I ate an organic apple and a small bowl of kettle popcorn, drank one diet cola and lots of water. Gee whiz, how can I complain about daily tedium?

I am not "supposed" to be doing most of these things... but here at the Manor deep deep in the Tête de Hergé? It's hard to get good help!

I am sure that I don't help my pain levels by vacuuming -- and wheelchair vacuuming is, in a way, more demanding than reg'lar vacuuming. But I assure you, it beats the upset that will happen should I have to see cat hair on my favorite raw silk pillows for one minute more than is necessary. The same goes for dinner -- having a good, healthy dinner with Fred and Bianca beats the heck out of some sad microwaved stuff eaten alone. Besides, Fred's cholesterol is sky high and someone has to counteract frozen pizza and sausage being added to anything edible. I love him. I want him to live forever, and healthily. Vibrantly. Joyfully!

Every fifteen minutes, I stop and rest. Sometimes the rest period lasts 24 hours! Not today, though. Today, I am dedicated to the proposition that Retired Educator can be worn out and, being worn out, sleep.

Where is all that laughter coming from?

The lack of sleep is hell on CRPS/RSD. I have had a severe worsening of it in my right arm, which figures, I suppose, since it seems the infection has returned there. But I also get to reexperience the symptoms that I remember from the very beginnings of the disease -- the shooting, lightening-like electrical impulses to individual toes, for example. They rarely occur when I am not febrile, infected, fatigued. I experienced many more tics and spasms when this tired.

There is a funny side to it -- for when it hits, either the shooting pain or the tic/spasm, I cry out involuntarily, and it is loud -- short, and loud, not unlike a BARK. Fred will roll his eyes but, at least, knows never to ask "What's wrong?" Nothing pisses me off more. I don't know why... it is just that I spend almost all my time fighting pain and part of me feels that he ought to know that -- he ought to know what is going on. Yet, given that I end here, and he begins there, how could he?

In two days, I see the orthopedic surgeon again. The poor man. He did my right shoulder replacement back in 2005, then removed the prosthesis last August -- needing two surgeries to get what he felt to be an acceptably clean field. He removed the left shoulder prosthesis in December... and now is going to have to go back in on the right side to remove what appears to be an infected shoulder spacer. In the interim, suspicious pain has set in in my left hip and lower back. My bloodwork sucks -- but just as in the preceding instances, nothing grows on cultures taken from these regions. Whatever is infecting me remains unknown, despite four aspirations and despite clearly infected samples taken during surgery and before antibiotics. Oh -- antibiotics! After each surgery, I have had 6 weeks of i.v. vancomycin.

As I said, "poor man." He is tops in his field nationwide, and I trust his skills implicitly. That is why I am so scared -- because he cannot forsee how this will end. He told me that he can see us chasing the infection from bone to bone, joint to joint. (Initially, we thought the infections were restricted to all of my orthopedic hardware -- then he discovered it hiding deep in my left humeral shaft... It literally exploded when he began to investigate. So osteomyelitis has been a new term to add to the list. This apparently means something -- I just don't know what.)

If the pathogen, be it bacterial, fungal, or whatever-al, were known, I think he would feel much better. So I don't know -- do we schedule this next surgery as we have the others, in haste, or could I possibly wait a while? I had hoped to be able to really rest and recover in this down time, but that isn't happening. Pain, fever, discomfort, and increasing disability and depression -- THAT is what's happening. Hopefully, and yes, probably, he will lead the way and be able to tell me what is best -- because I am so far down that I am not reasoning all that well. It shows even in my writing in this blog -- I barely recognize myself.

During the writing of this ridiculous post, I am glad to report that Sam-I-Am sought out, and received, permission for An Under. He is currently ensconced under a bright yellow blanket and a lovely, worn quilt -- and under a pair of aching, burning knees. He radiates a warmth that I really don't need but whose message of camradery I do embrace.

The Fredster, for his part, bought a DVD to watch, and some comfort snacks (whose cholesterol content I will have to approve). More importantly, he is willing to hang out with me. Even La Bonne et Belle Bianca has invested herself in the effort.

Good cat. Good partner. Good friends.

And, hopefully, a good night.

"Don't have no gun. Don't have no bullets, neither." [repost]

this is another repost from the same period of time -- the fall of 2008. why am i resubmitting these pieces? am i hoping that the very public shame of not having progressed even one iota of an inch forward in my ways of thinking will somehow so shake me that change will be inevitable (or shame permanent)? perhaps.

but i also think the lesson is simpler than that: what blessings might have been had proper permitting, appropriate ammunition, and heartfelt intent been allowed to coincide?

Last Wednesday, I had my second appointment at the Wound Care Center, and my six-week follow-up with the orthopedic surgeon:

We were 20 minutes late for the wound care. Two highway accidents with rubbernecking at high pitch, and then trouble finding a parking space. I apologized profusely, and meant it. That is, I meant it the first four times the tech deigned to elicit the response. As she began to deign for the fifth and sixth time, however, I felt fairly elicitless.

It was 9 am, and it turned out that I was hypertensive and febrile. (Yes, I was looking for an excuse.) Normally, my blood pressure is alarmingly low -- usually in the realm of 80/50. I have never given it much thought -- but since being told of the issues with my aortic arch, I have sort of cherished my low numbers. And so it was that when told my pressure was 160/110, I fairly laughed in their faces. "No way, no way! I am *always* low... check it again." Five rechecks later? 160/110.

The fever was more of an annoyance than anything else. I am tired of it -- tired of sweating -- tired of feeling *this* close to bursting into tears. Definitely tired of having to tell its story, having to let yet another clueless health care professional try to invent the freaking wheel. Why cannot they simply accede to the truth that it is being tracked, followed, and investigated -- just not by them! Why order bloodwork, why lather at the mouth, why cause me difficulties? Here is a clue: I am *sick* and had to deal with an ill-tempered partner to get here, through hellacious traffic, pain that you cannot imagine. All I want from you is treatment of my ulcered foot -- and, to be perfectly honest, I don't even want that. We are more than capable of taking care of this at home. We are here because of CYA Mentality Medicine.

Oh, if only you could see, and properly appreciate, the sentences that have been typed and then erased between the paragraph above and the next.

Anyway, they changed how we are to dress the cavernous ulcer on my foot (I dropped my laptop on my right foot -- ground zero for my CRPS / RSD -- and the tissue would not absorb the hematoma and extra fluid, so it all burst outward. Yuck. Then would not heal, apparently due to all the extant vascular and nerve damage.). We had used SelectSilver by Milliken for the first week, which drew out an incredible amount of fluid from the foot, and even the lower leg. I kid you not! There were times that the bandage was dripping wet a mere half hour after being applied. Now we will use plain wicking material but must use an ointment called Collagenase Santyl. As it was explained to me, the stuff is akin to a chemical leech. I am gifted with a fair amount of "slough" -- which they swore was a scientific term for the material that normally would be absorbed by the body. Detritus. Junk. Goo. Ick. It is supposedly "smart," in that it will chow down on necrotic tissues but leave untouched the healthy stuff.

The tech took her sweet time, dragging out the minutes, until I had but four of them to get across the street to the orthopod's office. Revenge?

Fred had gone to bed at 3 am; I got up at 3 am. We are, at times, ships passing in the night. And so we were basically Stupid Squared as we sat in the next waiting room.

I have to say, dear blog, that I came away from my meeting with my world-reknowned surgeon quite perturbed.

We verbally ran through all that happened with the two surgeries and what he thinks the future will hold for the right side of my body. I almost hated to tell him what his PA already knew -- that I am having fevers again, that there is now severe pain and restriction of movement in my *left* shoulder. And my white count is again hovering between 11.5 and 13,000.

He says what good luck it is that there is no metal on that side, no prosthesis to deal with.

I stared at him. "There *is* a prosthesis on that side," I tell him. His mouth falls open. "But I didn't do it," he counters, with unassailable logic. "True," I say, "but Dr. Do-DoHead did..."

It boggles my mind that he did not know there were more prostheses. Why do I fill out all the pre-op paperwork, get those pre-op clearances?

He thinks I have abscesses on that side.

He put his head in his hands.

My what an uncomplicated course I am looking at. A bad ulcer to heal -- now that I have this sucky history of hospital acquired MRSA. A long recovery after having one shoulder prosthesis removed due to massive infection. Apparent infection on the opposite side. A promised surgery to implant a new prosthesis... once all of these other things are cleared up. He was mumbling by then. He never looked me in the eye.

The daily pain of CRPS / RSD in all limbs and the lower half of my face. The pain and disability of avascular necrosis in all major joints. Juggling adrenal insufficiency. The ins-and-outs of SLE.

Depression, deepening. Isolation, deepening. Despair? Admitted to only here. Just between you and me.

I am dizzy. I am sad. I am mad. I am crying, again.

160/110. 100.7 (not supposed to be possible on steroids...). My heart rate stays in triple digits.

I feel like quitting. Like shooting myself in the head, say. Here I am, just as I was back in early August, and then as I was last October, November -- dripping wet with sweat, burning up, shivering, a sick insomniac with a wicked headache and out-of-this-world pain.
I just asked Fred if he would shoot me.
His reply? "Don't have no gun. Don't have no bullets, neither."

I left my shoulder in San Francisco [repost]

this is a repost from the summer of 2008, and i had just had the nuts-and-bolts of the upcoming surgeries explained to me -- you know, spacers and stuff!  well, apparently, i took temporary leave of my senses, in a very lingual way...

La Belle Bianca Castafiore, ici --

Zee Retired Educator? She is, comment le dire? She is settled up, I think you say. She will be tossing the Pity Party soon, yes, yes.

Il se peut que... Er, it will be necessary that she will lose the faux shoulder for a period of the time. This? This she can not arrive at wrapping around her little mentation.

But I am knowing her since long time, long distances, and she? She will wrap around her little mentation, bien sûr. Elle va accepter les changements que son état de santé a rendus nécessaires. And she tosses the good Pity Party also as well, too, yes, yes.

It is not impossible that this will not happen, eh? Moi, La Belle Bianca Castafiore,
je reste confiante et optimiste. La prof retraitée va avoir besoin de mon aide considérable (et très bien connu, le monde entier, il faut ajouter.). Je suis prête à aider. Mieux que d'être "prête-à-porter!" Oh, les jeux de mots, que j'en suis la maitresse!

Encore un verre, les mecs! (Oooo, I am not saying that out of loud, am I not?)

Still, where is the Captain? La la la... "Ah my beauty past compare, these jewels bright I wear!...Was I ever Margarita? Is it I? Come reply...Mirror mirror tell me truly!” Oh, scruffy little schoolboy, mon cher Captain Hoddack, où est-il? If there exists anyone who can fix a broken shoulder, it is he! We will simplement build a replacement while the replacement is out, if you arrive at following my route! Ah, oui, on a toujours tellement besoin de moi, de ma sagesse.
Hmmm! Ah, je ris de me voir si belle dans ce miroir!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pile of Sleeping Kittens

I don't think I am the neighborhood Crazy Cat Lady.


Until making the acquaintance of The Fredster (on a gorgeous summer Sunday morning, in the entryway to the Militant Lesbian Feminist Existentialist's Place -- where he stood out like a pulsating sore thumb), I was a dog person. The thought of living with cats was a foreign notion, something that people who were disqualified canine caretakers might do, from a lack of options.

And yet, according to extant folklore, my first real pet was a cat. Named Herman.

My sole detailed memory of Herman is of the day I had to give him up. I was just shy of five years old. My brothers and I were fleeing the country...

Okay, we weren't exactly fleeing the country.

We were leaving Turkey, having lived a few years in Ankara, during which, apparently, we acquired Herman the Very Small Cat -- more precisely, Herman of the Small Head in Relation to His Body. His ratios were off.

A pea head. With humongous ears (again, in relation), which indicate, I'm told, a Master Mouser.

My Mother decided to cheat on my Father.
With her gynecologist.

I was born, with the carefully applied assistance of pitocin, on my Mother's birthday. It was this doubly joyful day that she decided to celebrate by spending it with the handsome, soulful ob/gyn -- a possibility because my Father was away for a few days.

She left us kids in the care of a sweet Turkish idiot, a young boy named Ali. We had a grand time, the highlight being a spirited game of Chicken. I was firmly planted on Ali's shoulders, and Brother-Unit Grader Boob was perched atop Brother-Unit Tumbleweed, and we were swinging at each other in total abandon...

When our Father came home early as a birthday surprise.

Surprise! Yay! Dad's home!

We had a very helpful next door neighbor. I don't recall how she helped us prior to that particular day, but on that particular day, she chose to direct my Father to the location of the family sedan, parked, she helpfully told him, in front of the aforementioned gynecologist's flat. Good neighbor. Helpful neighbor!

I have a clear memory of Ali's eyes bugging out.

Those same eyes, then calmer and full of real affection, looked at me some months later, at the airport. I had a firm grip on Herman, so much so that I wonder if I hurt him.

People were doing that awful trick of Exchanging Meaningful Glances Over the Head of The Child.

"You can't take the cat on the plane, Retired Educator."

So it was into Ali's capable arms that I delivered my first pet, Herman. I had no doubt that he would take good care of him, but I did my part to be childish, and burst into tears.

The rest of the day, the rest of the trip, was remarkable for considerable air sickness, and a very close relationship with paper bags. That was the one and only time that flying ever had an ill effect.

No, Mother didn't fly out with us. She stayed behind until her appearance was required for the divorce proceedings and the half-assed play-acting that were our custody hearings.

The Judge determining custody pretty quickly dismissed The 'Rents and turned his attention to the three of us. We must have looked grim. It went something like this:

"If you could live with either your Mother or your Father, who would you choose?"

Brother-Unit Tumbleweed, very, very angry at his Mom, said: "With my Father. Definitely, with my Father."

Brother-Unit Grader Boob, in a panic, said: "I wanna go with Tumbleweed."

At which point, I interjected, under my sad, crooked pixie haircut: "I wanna be with Grader Boob... Please let me stay with Grader Boob!" And again, I did my part to be childish, and burst into tears.

From then on, it was dogs, birds, and turtles for me.

I had a particular talent with birds, and was famous for nursing wounded or abandoned wild birds back to health.

One summer, a neighbor of my grandparents came over with a just hatched blue jay that had been tossed out of its nest by the mother Jay. My grandfather and I nursed him on puréed bugs 'n stuff, kept him warm. Eventually, Squawky lived a part-wild, part-domesticated existence. He slept inside the house, in my room, but would go outside during the day, always returning around sundown, announcing himself in the small dogwood adjacent to the back porch door.

He pulled a few stunts -- the most well known being following us to church, pecking and flying at the closed red doors until someone let him in. The sight of him flying down the center aisle right to me is unforgettable.

At the end of the summer, of course, I could not take Squawky with me, as I needed to return to California to start school. There could be no better caretakers, though, than my grandparents.

Sadly, a hawk got Squawky, though he did make it home to their house before dying, or so they told me.

There were a few more "wild" birds as part of my menagerie, most notably a homing pigeon, creatively named Potty Pigeon, for the astonishing amounts of poo he produced. I located his owner, thanks to the band on his leg, and released him, hoping that he'd find his way home, more than 100 miles away, after 6 weeks with me. 

He did!

My new stepmother was the one who discovered that my Father's claim of dog allergies was a baldfaced lie, and the Era of the Dog got underway.

Cats? After Herman and Ali, and before Fred and the onset of twenty years of Feline Frenzy, I never gave them a second thought.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Angel Tree Online

I don't know this particular program's ins-and-outs or its history but back when I dealt with non-profits and aid organizations, The Salvation Army was usually exactly what it claimed to be, and could be trusted.
It has teamed up with J.C. Penney to make its holiday Angel Tree program available online.  This is the second year of the partnership, so I assume the first was a success!

The virtual tree allows you to select a child or senior online, get their information and wish lists then shop online and have [your gifts] shipped for free to the Angel tree collection site.

That's if you shop at JCPenney for the items. JCP is offering free shipping on any order for Angel tree network.

Keep in mind you can shop anywhere online or in the store however you'll have to ship the items yourself or drop them off at the location you receive after confirmation.

This is great for someone like me -- I am mall-and-shopping phobic but still would like to do a good turn for a child or an older person who might be having a rough year.  Of course, that situation is all but unheard of around here, deep, deep in the Tête de Hergé (très décédé, d'ailleurs), as we don't suffer from the usual societal and economic stressors.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Cistercian practical jokers from the monastery riffraff down the road submitted themselves as angels to be adopted.  They get a little loopy this time of year -- what with that booming office supply mail order business, extra masses (for $49.95, promised in perpetuity, plus an autographed photo of Abbot-Fill-In-The-Blank), and public choir performances (those boys can sing!).  It is not just their precious $32 MonkCakes that are soaking in the peach brandy, if you get my drift, wink::wink.

Anyway, here are some FAQs as fielded by The Salvation Army. PLEASE READ THEM BEFORE ADOPTING AN ANGEL -- I don't wanna be responsible for anyone feeling snookered.

What is The Salvation Army Angel Giving Tree program?

•The Salvation Army Angel Giving Tree online presented by JCPenney is a national, online adoption program that allows customers to provide children and seniors in need with Christmas gifts. JCPenney has made it easier than ever for customers to shop, buy and ship their gifts from the convenience of their home, office or anywhere in the world.

How does the Angel Giving Tree program work?

•Visit to be guided through a short Angel selection process. After choosing an Angel online, you will receive a confirmation email with all of the necessary details to help shop for your Angel. Instructions will include the Angel’s wish list as well as information regarding where to ship your gifts. This address will have to be manually entered during the checkout process on Deadline for adopting and shopping for an Angel is Dec. 10. Otherwise, you have until Dec. 14 to purchase a JCPenney Gift Card for your Angel. These dates ensure that your Angel receives your gift(s) in time for Christmas.

Who benefits from The Salvation Army Angel Giving Tree program?

•As an extension of the traditional physical version of The Salvation Army Angel Giving Tree, this program provides gifts to children and seniors who, due to financial hardship, may not otherwise receive a Christmas gift.


Monday, November 8, 2010

sometimes i rise above

I am struggling to climb the next rung of what, for lack of a better term, I call my challenge ladder.

Many years ago, during that time when I somehow managed a heavy courseload, worked 40-hours in a weekend, and maintained a fanatic interest in tennis -- oh, yes, and when I was quite busy dealing with an ex-boyfriend turned stalker -- I discovered and put into frequent practice some basic biofeedback techniques to fight the stress of exams, lack of sleep, and being held off the floor, against the wall, by a hand around my neck.

Success is a mighty antedote for stress and worry.  During the period when I ruled the Literary and Academic world with an iron hand in a velveteen glove, being overwrought with nervous energy was something of a boon, and certainly to be expected when living on Diet Coke and Gitanes Brunes. 

Okay, so my rise up the Ivory Tower might actually more resemble the route taken by Window Washers and professional Masonry Weeders.

But the part about the Diet Coke and the Gitanes is true.

I rediscovered and returned to relaxation techniques when I left hoity-toity academia for the urban trenches of educational warfare:  high school teaching.  At the time, we also volunteered many hours a week at a homeless shelter for elderly, disabled, and actively ill men.  There was a lot of slow, deep breathing going on, let me tell you!

When did these tools morph into a ladder, a challenge ladder?  Precisely when I realized that certain situations, if not all, depended on my ability to transcend my circumstances and, almost literally, to rise above them. 

"To rise" is an inadequate verb.  "To scramble in a generally positive, vertical direction, spewing caramel-colored cola and spitting scraps of nicotine hay" -- that is the more apt verbal expression.

I dreamed the ladder up.

In preparation for a transesophageal echocardiogram, a nurse began spraying my throat with a topical analgesic called Cetacaine.  My throat promptly swelled up, and about a minute later, I coded.  Somewhere in my head, I could hear the stylings of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, trapped in the wrong episode, yelling "No echo for you!"

The couple of hours I spent circling the drain were marked by brief excursions into consciousness and the subsequent awareness of pain.  Extreme pain.  It hurt bad enough that I preferred being comatose to the option of fully-sentient existence.

And yet, even then, I grew tired of myself.

"Self," said I, "We're in quite a pickle,* a real jam."

I don't know why so much pain set in following this incident.  There was no reason for such a worsening, no reasoning, either, that I should face such a reckoning.'

In my mind, the fog of confusion began to clear.  I saw myself -- no, that is not right.

Before I saw anything, I felt.  I felt a pleasant warmth on my face and arms, felt a soft breeze. 

I heard the breeze, too, and that through which it blew, the leaves, mostly, rustling, rustling. 

I was on a tall ladder that was leaning against the second story of a three-story house, a well-kept wooden home, painted a cheerful yellow with white trim.  The sun was shining, but gently.  I don't recall ever breathing such pure air -- better even than beach air, with its hints of sea bird and salt.

Were I concise and reductive in nature, I would say I experienced an incredible sense of well being.

There was no cogent sense of time in this illusion I was hosting, but after a while, the pain in my legs, hips, and shoulders reasserted itself, the sun slid behind clouds, the breeze turned stale.

Clearly, I needed to climb higher on the ladder.  That looks like a patch of sunlight up there, and over there, there is almost a shimmer to the air...

I "remembered" how once I marshalled my resources to survive a lover's grip, an examiner's query, a student's quarrel.  I remembered being the real eye of an imaginary hurricane. 

My feet found the next rung, tested it, my hands reached for the warmth of yellow, and I climbed the ladder from pain into no-pain, my chest fairly bursting with the effort to breathe right, breathe slow, measured.

[Do you remember when you first understood the how and why of Prufrock, who "measured out [his] life with coffee spoons"?]

I never said a mumblin' word to Fred, to the doctors or the nurses, never divulged even the existence of my clapboard house, held cupped in the bottom of a balsam-scented valley, never shared the function of my rickety, trusted ladder.

Unfortunately, I visited often.  The owners have added a few stories -- the ladder, likewise, has magically grown extensions.

Every time that I get a weepy, sad-faced doctor, every time I hear "there is nothing more blahblahblah..."?  Sure, I sink deep into the blues, and sometimes for an embarrassing length of time, but then, one day, twisted from no sleep, unable to stand, dropping coffee cups left and right...

I feel the breeze tease my face, smell the pine...and I climb.

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****
*The earliest pickles were spicy sauces made to accompany meat dishes. Later, in the 16th century, the name pickle was also given to a mixture of spiced, salted vinegar that was used as a preservative. The word comes from the Dutch or Low German pekel, with the meaning of 'something piquant'. Later still, in the 17th century, the vegetables that were preserved, for example cucumbers and gherkins, also came to be called pickles.

The 'in trouble' meaning of 'in a pickle' was an allusion to being as disoriented and mixed up as the stewed vegetables that made up pickles. This was partway to being a literal allusion, as fanciful stories of the day related to hapless people who found themselves on the menu. The earliest known use of pickle in English contains such an citation. The Morte Arthure, circa 1440, relates the gory imagined ingredients of King Arthur's diet:

He soupes all this sesoun with seuen knaue childre, Choppid in a chargour of chalke-whytt syluer, With pekill & powdyre of precious spycez.
[He dines all season on seven rascal children, chopped, in a bowl of white silver, with pickle and precious spices]

The figurative version of the phrase, meaning simply 'in a fix' or, in the almost identical 19th century phrase 'in a stew', arrives during the next century. Thomas Tusser's Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie, 1573, contains this useful advice:

Reape barlie with sickle, that lies in ill pickle.

Presumably, barley that wasn't in ill pickle, i.e. the corn that was standing up straight, would be cut with the larger and more efficient scythe.

There are a few references to ill pickles and this pickle etc. in print in the late 16th century, and Shakespeare was one of the first to use in a pickle, in The Tempest, 1610:

And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded 'em?
How camest thou in this pickle?

I have been in such a pickle since I
saw you last that, I fear me, will never out of
my bones: I shall not fear fly-blowing.

A return to the more literal interpretation of the phrase came about in the late 1700s. The Duke of Rutland had toured Britain and wrote up his experiences in a travelogue - Journal of a Tour to the Northern Parts of Great Britain, 1796. He was present at the disinterment of the 350 year-old body of Thomas Beaufort, which he claimed to have been pickled and 'as perfect as when living':

The corpse was done up in a pickle, and the face wrapped up in a sear cloth.

Just nine years later the most celebrated personage ever to have been literally in a pickle - Admiral Horatio Nelson, met his end, although some pedants might argue that, being preserved in brandy, he found himself in more of a liquor than a pickle.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rationale: "...and write about it all"

Slaking my thirst!

My eye flew to the bolded "Dr. SecretWave" on my Google Reader page.  I'd not seen a post from him since April, and that one alluded in its title to a "probable farewell."

Today, at least, Dr. SecretWave 101 has a new post:  RATIONal.  Health care rationing is one of those trigger, scary concepts designed to stir up other triggering scary notions -- like Death Panels.

Part of it goes something like this (when you've read this, run over there and read the rest):

Living in Europe [Baumholder, Germany] insulates the average human from goofy, over-the-top language meant to get people to do and think in ways that OTHER people want them to. So, I haven’t been very caught up in, or all that impressed by, all the politics and steamy language coming out of my home country these past months.

We have fast government. No arguing. You like. Like pizza.

Now the election is finally over, we find that Republicans have “swept” themselves into a level of “power” that assures exactly zero will happen unless they work with all the Democrats and Independents that never lost their jobs. Some people think all the upcoming wrangling is a bad thing; I think it’s great. A super-active government rarely doesn’t do anything well. There IS a type of government that “gets things done” almost immediately, with little debate. It’s called a dictatorship. If you’re smitten with that idea, move to North Korea and try THAT speedy idea on and see how you like it.

Anyway, I received a link to a very persuasive and scary speech given by an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. David Janda, wherein he outlined the horrors and sneaky tricks piled into the Obama health care bill. His speech was in support of Rob Steele, a cardiologist-turned-politician likely because he was mad as hell at the terrible direction of the country (*yawn*, aren’t we all?). Presumably, said cardiologist is now back in the clinic, since he thoroughly lost the election of the 15th Congressional District of Michigan to John Dingell something like 83k votes to 118k votes. Apparently, the Dingells have run that district for generations. If you’re looking for nutty, inflammatory, manipulative language, look no further than at a political battle between a challenger losing in the polls as s/he tries to unseat a longstanding incumbent.

The gist of Dr. Janda’s speech is how Obama intends to RATION health care. This actually sparked my interest. I don’t really care about health care system politics; I’d rather just see patients, frankly. But I have to just say to my fledgling SW101 crowd, I SUPPORT RATIONING....
He has a new blog, called Lover, Daddy, Doctor and fleshes out where one blog ends and the other begins in this way:

Unlike my last blog – which was ostensibly about medicine, but really about anything – this is a chronicle of a guy trying to be a good Dad and good Husband. I’ve been recently trying to be a better man, basically, and since I think best by writing, I figured a companion blog wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The reason I stopped the other blog and started this one is because my goals in life recently became very clear to me. Clear enough to state it here, and to record my pursuit of it for the world to see. Here it is:

I want nothing more than to follow God sensibly, love my wife, love my kids,
be a pretty good doc, stay in shape, surf occasionally, travel often, drink red wine,
make some love, make some friends, get out of debt…
and write about it all.

Writers need readers.  What are you waiting for?

How my mind works

Ever since the day I deleted, on purpose and quite efficiently, two good chapters of my doctoral thesis, along with two bad ones, I've been loathe to dispose of any piece of writing.  Let me qualify that just a little:  I've been loathe to dispose of any piece of writing that warranted an initial "save" on the computer.  Of course, saving a text doesn't always mean the text is worth anything -- it may have been a text interrupted, or a passage awaiting proper citation, or an enticing poster announcing ManorFest schedules and entry fees.  It may be something inane to me but valuable to someone else. * [see below]

Let's see what might happen, shall we, if I employ my usual artlessness in a blog post dedicated to the goings-on of The Castafiore, as she has been somewhat neglected of late:

La Bonne et Belle Bianca, The Castafiore, has laryngitis. 

That means, for those of you not tuned in to the minutiae of life here at Marlinspike Hall, ancestral home of the Haddock clan -- well represented in the current generation by The Captain -- That means, mes chers, mes petits choux, that no one, c'est-à-dire, personne, is going to be screaming, errrr, singing, à très haute voix:

ah!  je ris de me voir...
si belle dans ce miroir!

D'habitude, elle crie si fort que je risque de devenir sourde, ou dingue/dingo... folle... cinglée...  farfelue...
détraquée...  maboule... loufe... faible...  marteau... insensée... azimutée... loufoque... délirante... toquée... déséquilibrée...

[Not unlike the possum who loves bright, dangly Shiny Things,
I am momentarily caught off guard by this profusion of crazy words,
and in my embarassment, seek to draw my readers' eyes away
from this linguistic glitter by the insertion of cold, hard grammar...]

Remember, please, that dingo is, of course, invariable -- when used as French adjectival slang, that is.
Not, I repeat, not when referencing the wild dog of Australia, and certainly not in relation to the tragic event that introduced many of us to the canine dingo:  the death of baby Azaria Chamberlain thirty years ago at Uluru, and her mother's famous declaration that "a dingo ate my baby."

It's unfortunate that I tend to burst out laughing at that phrase, as delivered by a shrill Meryl Streep in the movie A Cry in the Dark. I confess to having mimicked Streep with nary a thought in my pointy head for the real actors, and their actual drama.  By the time Elaine performs her mimicry on a Seinfeld episode, I was likely inured to the tragic origins of the line.

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, by the way, recently has requested what will be a fourth inquest about the death of her daughter, part of her search for justice being to have the death certificate reflect that Azaria was killed by the primitive canine. 

It is so little to ask, and coming from someone who lost... incalculably.  Convicted of murder (and her husband of being an accessory to it), she spent a tangible three and a half years in prison for a loss too great for reckoning.  She just wants to amend what stands as malicious fantasy with a truth.

And... scene!  My mind does work, but it does its work mysteriously.  How did any of the above possibly relate to the Dear Castafiore? 

Well, the first thought thought is not the first thought recorded, of course.

As I pondered La Bonne et Belle Bianca, and delighted in my good fortune at escaping her rehersal of Gounod's Faust, with her assigned aria, Air des Bijoux, a stray neuron misfired and I flashed on the Benes character, herself reacting to an obnoxious, repetitive voice -- the woman worried about her lost fiancé.  Thus was the deadly dingo incident planted in my fertile brow.   And somehow, that videoclip made me think of the inane, insane craziness that The Castafiore so often inspires in me on a lazy Sunday afternoon -- but even as I indulged my fantasy with an exercise in Synonyms for "Crazy" in French, I sought to reestablish the facts of the case... a travesty wherein what was called evidence of blood was a mixture of milkshake and copper dust, where a Mother's failure to behave as a proper Mother should was an indicting evil.

One day, I'll have to do a hundred focused words or so on the deadening dichotomy of Mary the Virgin/Whore and other unfortunate idées reçues.

*  [What I write] may be something inane to me but valuable to someone else... Such proved to be the rambling introduction I made to a blog entry about CRPS clinical trials.  Of course, the clinical trials themselves are of import, but in a fit of gregarious excess, I also jotted down some historical references about the ManorMaze and the family responsable for its very existence, the Mimnermuses:
I'm going to steal a moment away from ManorFest activities to update the blog on CRPS clinical trials that are currently accepting new volunteers.

I could use the rest. We opened ManorMaze to the public this year and, let me tell you, if you have the bad luck to draw Rescue Duty, your dogs are gonna bark.

Written records testify that Marlinspike Hall's Manor Maze dates back as far as 1067. Cretan Manor Jardinier Ajax Mimnermus transplanted the first thousand English Boxwood in a highly original serpentine pattern that twisted and turned over a particularly hilly, 25-acres bit of Haddock ancestral land. Twenty-two generations later, the Mimnermus Family still holds the prestigious position of JardinierOfficiel to the Marlinspike Manor Maze. A proud and loyal clan, they guard our horticultural secrets with ferocity. Both little red-headed, freckled Xenophon and his more swarthy third cousin Clinias are currently in training: One will assume the mantle of Jardinier Officiel; The other will be offered a lifetime position on the Landscape Crew. Everyone wins!

Anyway, you can imagine how huge and complex this labyrinth is today, as one Mimnermus after another has judiciously added plantings, making the maze both more elegant and more challenging to exit. (Though sometimes, I'd swear that it has a life all its own, its paths shifting in the night like sand in a storm -- but I can't prove anything.)

CRPS renders ManorMaze Rescue Duty very tiring, and my wheelchair has lost its charge more than once, over the years, leaving me to call for my own rescue. It's a restful place in which to be trapped, though, as our Illustrious Gardeners have created little enclaves of delight within -- squares dedicated to aromatherapy, curlicued paths lined with delicious mint and sweet clovers!

[Thank the Good Lord, however, that my chair has never lost power in The Marsh installed by Xenophon's paternal grandmother, Nausicaa, who loved the dramatic tension of taming a wild landscape. For The Marsh, she took as her inspiration Tolkien's Dead Marshes of Middle Earth. Being a patriotic soul, Tête-de-Hergéenne through and through, she wanted to memorialize those lands that served as battlefield during the Sixth Uprising, and modeled her marsh on his Mere of Dead Faces that border one of the entrances to Mordor. Years ahead of her time, she achieved the underwater lighting effect by solar cells and advanced the field of horticultural photovoltaics by decades. Captain Haddock's great uncle had the forsight to underwrite her studies in Moscow with Aleksandr Stoletov -- where it is our good fortune that she witnessed the creation of the very first solar cell and was able to make such an apt application of the invention!]

You are probably thinking that a history so momentous would have its own dedicated documentary support of photographic, journalistic, and epistolary evidence.  And you would be, of course, correct.  Captain Haddock's first Mother-In-Law crested the wave of Nouveau Scrapbooking and stored most everything in Marlinspike Hall's only turret, where she was, errr, housed in the early 1950s.  Her digs were eventually turned into The Computer Turret for reasons just technical enough to escape me. 

I did my usually doodling and dallying in a blog post about... Well, it was actually about Fresca, and her blog, l'astronave... but as I frequently record where I am when writing, as well as why I am where I am, I was compelled to share a little about the conditions in The Computer Turret that evening:
Excuse me, this computer -- a new, or at least, different one -- is blinking and hooting at me. Sputtering, even.

Part of me keeps thinking "This isn't very wise, Retired Educator! Better you should close the plush velvet curtains of The Computer Turret, though they are impervious to not much, so as to better shield this shy, blinking, hooting instrument from the needling horizontal rain with which the Lord has blessed us, than to continue to risk disc failure by pecking away on damp keys and dipping the world's longest extension cord into the stray puddles gracing the uneven slate flagstone."

Yes, we DO have a turret!

Only the one, though.

It was a medieval design flaw, very common, but normally disguised as a soot-spewing chimney by the gaggle of ensuing sub-contractors unleashed by the inevitable Industrial Revolutions. The original Manor Residents had Castle Pretensions. Anyway, Captain Haddock's first mother-in-law, whose living conditions he seems to have delighted in complicating, was housed up here back in the 50s. After her departure, highly fêted, it kind of became a design nightmare and went through incarnations that might shock even Niecy Nash. [I confess that I sometimes wander around Marlinspike Hall with a blindfold on, stopping suddenly and yelling: "Take your blindfold off and OPEN YOUR EYES!"

Yes, I did recently break a leg. Your point?

You probably shuddered with premonition that night, Dear Reader.  Perhaps, in your own blog or journal you wrote of your fear -- perhaps you lit a candle on our behalf, or placed a sporting bet on when, exactly, The Computer Turret would be engulfed in flames. 

For just a few short weeks later, the electrical short that had been smoldering behind "the plush, velvet curtains" turned into a sufficiently maintained blaze to destroy everything but its rock base -- panelling, curtains, computers, and, yes, all the archival material about the ManorMaze.  Oh, and an inimitable collection of Milanese Osso Bucco recipes. 

Yeah, so publishing what may seem extraneous to you, or even to me, in this blog can, indeed, serve a separate and sometimes higher purpose.  In this instance, I do harbor a bit of regret, because our Manor insurance company at the time,  BCBS -- Bull Crap Bull Skeet of Tête-de-Hergé -- refused to cover the costs of the inferno, citing my own reportage in this blog as evidence of irresponsible usage and dangerous conditions.   Dickwads.

And yet, isn't it grand that some of the invaluable history of The Manor was preserved by my seemingly mindless and circuitous writings?

That, in short, Dear Reader, is how my mind works.

Now... as I said, initially, Bianca has laryngitis.  I am thinking slippery elm tea and a pristine broth...